The Hitchens brothers, Christopher and Peter, made a rare public appearance together this morning on the Today programme, debating Christopher’s new book about religion, God is Not Great. For an earlier Hitchens brothers clash, see their Prospect debate, in March 1998, about the legacy of the 1960s. Christopher kicked things off this morning by describing a challenge he has been issuing to religious types recently: “Name an ethical statement made by, or act performed by, a believer that could not have been performed by a non-believer.” Not surprisingly, he said, no one has been able to come up with one. So—we are presumably meant to conclude—that’s 1-0 to atheism then. Well, no, actually. Christopher’s challenge may show that it is perfectly possible for non-believers to behave ethically (which few religious people would deny) but surely the more important question is whether non-believers are as likely to behave ethically—and on this score the challenge proves nothing. It was, in other words, a typical manoeuvre: superficially bamboozling, but also slightly missing the point. However, encountering such rhetorical slipperiness at so early an hour did have one beneficial effect: it roused me instantly from my slumbers, and ensured that I got to work (sort of) on time.
The Hitchens rematch
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